The Book of Spitalfields Life
It is my delight – on this New Year’s Day – to announce the news to you that the book of Spitalfields Life will be published by Saltyard Books (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) on March 1st. For over a year, I have been working to bring this mighty four hundred and fifty page book into existence, and here you will find one hundred and fifty of your favourite stories, published as a handsome illustrated hardback designed by distinguished typographer David Pearson.
Everything you seek in London can be found in this book – street life, street art, markets, diverse food, immigrant culture, ancient houses and history, pageants and parades, rituals and customs, traditional trades and old family businesses. Spend a night in the bakery at St John with baker Justin Piers Gellatly, ride the rounds with Kevin Read the Spitalfields milkman, drop in to the Golden Heart for a pint with landlady Sandra Esqulant, meet Paul Gardner the fourth-generation paper bag seller, Steve Brooker the mudlark who discovers treasure in the Thames, Bill Crome the window cleaner who sees ghosts and Alan Hughes the master bell-founder whose business started in 1570. In these pages, you can join the bunny girls for their annual reunion at The Grapes, visit the wax sellers of Wentworth Street and the curry chefs of Brick Lane, and discover the site of Shakespeare’s first theatre in Shoreditch.
As you can see, Rob Ryan made these fine Staffordshire dogs to grace the cover and it has been a pleasure to collaborate with him on a set of bells that tintinnabulate throughout the book as colophons to divide the stories one from another. Equally, it has been my privilege to work with Lucinda Rogers, commissioning her to make a suite of six large detailed drawings of the streets of Spitalfields which will be published in the book as double page spreads. Finally, to complete the trio, Mark Hearld – a favourite artist whose work is new to Spitalfields Life – has contributed lyrical images of the creatures that share our neighbourhood, the cats, rats, foxes and pigeons – as well as magnificent endpapers of the rooftops of Spitalfields.
Alongside prime examples of the work of Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographers, Sarah Ainslie, Lucinda Douglas-Menzies, Jeremy Freedman, Phil Maxwell, Patricia Niven and Martin Usborne, you will find the first publication of photographs by Mark Jackson & Huw Davies recording the last year of the Fruit & Vegetable Market, George Gladwell’s pictures of Columbia Rd Market in the 1960s and the Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London’s images of London in the 1880s.
When I set out to write my daily stories of Spitalfields Life in 2009, I had hardly written prose before and I did not know where it would lead, but it was my intention to pursue the notion of recording the stories that nobody else was writing. Although it was not in my mind that this would become a book, over time many readers wrote asking for a collection of these stories and then, in the Summer of 2010, several esteemed publishers came over to Spitalfields to discuss the notion of publication in print. Meanwhile, I discovered that Elizabeth Hallett, editor of a select list of titles at Saltyard Books, had subscribed to Spitalfields Life and been reading it daily from within a few weeks of commencement, and so I was happy to accept her as my publisher.
More than a year ago, I promised to invite you – dear readers – to a wonderful party in Spitalfields to meet all the infinite variety of people that you have been reading about in these pages, and now it is time to issue that glorious invitation. On the evening of Friday 2nd March, please join me in Nicholas Hawksmoor’s towering masterpiece of Christ Church, Spitalfields at a gathering to celebrate the people of Spitalfields, as we launch this book of their stories into the world.
Your loyal servant
The Gentle Author
and watch this short film introducing the Art of Mark Hearld.